Madchester’s great lost club – Isadoras
Madchester’s cult club night, the Hangout, returns at the Twisted Wheel for one night on Dec 16th.
Author, academic and Punk & Post-Punk editor Dr Philip Kiszely is an ex-reveler. 20 years later, he remembers Madchester, Oasis, and the coolest night in town”Â¦
Every year around mid-July, I hit the streets of Manchester to deliver an alfresco lecture on the city’s music history. You know the kind of thing ”â schlepping from one place to another, bellowing over the traffic noise, and making sure the stragglers don’t get run over by a Bury-bound tram. I probably look as daft as I feel when I’m doing this, but my audience of international students and semi-intrigued passers-by (not to mention the odd homeless heckler) seem to enjoy my The Madchester I Remember-style stroll down Memory Lane. And God knows I love getting lost in the reverie. But the pop culture landscape I talk of while perched on the soapbox has altered significantly over the last 20-odd years. And I mean that quite literally. When I wax lyrical about long nights in the Hacienda, I do so stood on the pavement outside the city centre apartments that now occupy the site. Similarly, as I recall Noel and Liam’s early obscurity at the Boardwalk, I find myself leaning against an anonymous little office block sporting a commemorative plaque. They’re conspicuous by their physical absence, no question, but the Hacienda and the Boardwalk still remain obvious points of reference, so it’s easy enough to capture these particular echoes of an utterly glorious past. The story of the Hacienda is, after all, one of thee great tales of the modern city. But what about Manchester’s other ”Ëalternative’ music clubs?
There were lots of them in the city centre during the late ”Ë80s and early ”Ë90s, all clustered within a few hundred yards of each other ”â Cloud 9, the Banshee, Devilles, the Brickhouse, Berlin, the Venue, the Asylum, 42nd St (on a Tuesday), the Ritz (on a Monday). I could do the full roll-call, but you get the idea. Christ sake, you were probably a regular at most of them yourself. And d’you know what? I can almost smell those venues now. Feel their magnetic pull, dragging me back through the years. Now, I’m as sentimental as the next northern man ”â more so, I’d wager ”â but I’m going to rein myself in and limit my remembrance to one particular favourite. Which one is it? Why, it’s the most important and romantic of them all, of course. Madchester’s great lost club night ”â the soon to be resurrected ”ËHangout’.
Yes, it’s back. The Hangout closed its doors for the last time some 20 years ago, but they re-open again fleetingly on December 16th. It’s one night only, so you’d better get yourself a ticket. Sharpish. Rather poetically, the reunion is being held, not in the old venue ”â alas, that now goes by the name of Zizzi; and, yes, you’ve guessed, it serves up a diet of so-so Italian food rather than rock ”Ën’ roll these days ”â but at 6 Whitworth Street. An innocuous enough address, you might suppose, but I don’t mind admitting it sends a shiver down my spine. In case you didn’t know, it used to be the Twisted Wheel.
Bloody hell. The Twisted Wheel housing the Hangout. Echoes upon echoes of a glorious past.
The Hangout first opened for business back in the spring of 1989, all set to embrace the Second Summer of Love. Right from the off, or so it seemed to me, scene-makers would flock to the place ”â Bobby Gillespie, Mark E. Smith, the Inspirals, local favourites World of Twist. Manchester was an incredible place to be just then, especially if, like me, you were 17 going on 18 and as randy as a sailor on shore leave. I’ll come back to all that presently, but let me set out my credentials to tell this tale right here and now, so you know what you’re dealing with. I was a Hangout habituÃÂ©, you might say. And in the wider scheme of things, I butterflied around the Manchester music scene from ”Ë88 to ”Ë93, trying just a little bit too hard, I suppose, to be a ”Ëface’. My best friend, Michael Rose, and I went clubbing a good four to five nights out of the seven, at our peak, and we’d make enough of a spectacle of ourselves to get noticed. Our being in a band meant we circled the same orbit as a few of the real players. We shared rehearsal space with the Fall, New Fast Automatic Daffodils, and Northside; we also made acquaintance with the likes of Happy Mondays manager Nathan McGough and scenester Paul Clements. There”Ës no reason why you should have heard of Paul, incidentally, but he knew just about everybody and seemed to get everywhere. More importantly, he was one of four people that made the Hangout the special place it was.
But I’m running off at the mouth here. Let’s go back to the beginning and talk about two more of the Hangout Four, as I like to call them. Sometime in late ’88, Dave Booth asked his motor-mouth mate Gino Brandolani to front a club night, over which Dave would preside as DJ. Never one to let the grass grow, Gino promptly found Isadora’s, a dodgy little venue that had just gone into receivership. And Presto! with a prime location in Hanging Ditch and a Gino-negotiated bargain basement rent, the Hangout was born. Then Gino did the rounds of the pubs and clubs, zeroing in on people he liked the look of. He gave them little plastic containers holding cards for his and Dave’s Saturday club night. ”ËDon’t mention this night to anyone,’ he’d tell them confidentially, ”Ëjust make sure you turn up.’ Or words to that effect. Suffice to say, the guy had a natural gift for creating a buzz.
Predictably enough, things soon started to happen. And Gino and Dave, never having done anything quite like this before, made it up as they went along. If you run a nightclub, the pair discovered, you need to offer some kind of catering facility. So Gino did: he took orders for burger and chips and then sent some poor sod down to the Wimpy bar with a fist full of fivers to get them. Easy. Then the council told Gino the club needed air-conditioning, so he nailed a big metal fan above the dance floor and prayed the fucker wouldn’t fall down. Knives became an issue later on, but I’d say braining by swiftly descending object was the more immediate peril to those dancers in the early days.
While all this was going on, I had temporarily laid down the heavy burden of my clubbing responsibility to visit family in Hungary. I went with my dad ”â he drove there and back, remarkably enough ”â and we were away for about six weeks, all told. When I returned I was understandably eager to get back into the swing of things. It was at this point that I first got to hear about this amazing new place called the Hangout. They played all the Madchester stuff there, of course ”â you couldn’t, and wouldn’t want to, get away from it ”â but word was they interspersed it with the ”Ë60s garage punk and psych sounds of bands like the Sonics, the Seeds, Love, and the Chocolate Watch Band. And on actual acquaintance with the place, I discovered to my delight that this was in fact true. DJ Dave Booth would play the Kinks and the Byrds to a dance floor thronged with hipsters; he’d throw in the Velvets, the Stooges, and the MC5 too, all for good measure. He’d even segue ”ËI am the Resurrection’ into ”ËSatisfaction’, beautiful man that he is. Anyway, for me it was just what the doctor ordered, especially as, for some reason, I’d taken only one TDK C90 with me to Hungary ”â the Flying Burrito Bros. on one side, as I recall, and neo-psych band the Steppes on the other. And I was heartily sick of the damn thing by the end of the journey home, I don’t mind telling you. (I can’t vouch for my dear old dad, by the way, but it did seem to be getting on his tits as well.)
It’s of no consequence to anybody else, I suppose, but that trip to Hungary was a kind of Rite of Passage for me. I nearly got drafted into the Red Army while I was there, for starters, which well and truly put the shits up me (think how you’d feel at the prospect of two years’ sentry duty on the Romanian border, and all the while your mates are back home larging it off their faces in the most happening city in the world), but there was tons good stuff, too, and I came back to Blighty a slightly different person. It’s a huge claim for a little Manchester club night, I know, but the Hangout was the other major transformative influence on me at that time. Ah, you’re thinking, we’re gazing at the past through rose-tinted specs here, alright. Not a bit of it. My walking into the Hangout that very first Saturday night was akin to Mr Benn entering the costume shop and trying on a new identity. Seriously. It was magical ”â no other word for it.
An important element of that magic potion was Paul Clements and Derek Goodwin’s (the latter the final member of the Hangout Four) Headlights, a swirling psychedelic show that painted itself on your retina everywhere your eyes happened to rest themselves. Liquid colours, paisley patterns, kaleidoscopic imaging, all accompanied by slides of the Stones, the Doors, Woodstock, Altamont, Performance, Pebbles compilation covers, 6-5 Special, Paul Newman, Johnny Thunders, Pork, Russ Meyer starlets, The Gilded Palace of Sin, Zero Mostel. And, yes ”â that’s why the bloody thing remains lodged in my psyche twenty years later ”â Mr Benn. Thank you, Paul Clements. It was a perfect visual accompaniment to Dave Booth’s uniquely ”Ë60s take on Mancunia, and it set the club apart. Dave’s incredible way with the music, the lights (not to mention the Wimpy burgers, and the pies that followed in their wake), by God they didn’t half charge the senses. And if, for one reason of excess or another, I’d feel a touch queasy on occasion, I damn well felt Top of the World, Ma! for the rest of the time.
But time marches on and things change. The Hangout became a victim of its own success; it got too popular, for my tastes, even as its days were numbered due to problems with the lease. The place became deluged with punters, and slowly but surely it took on the blander aspect of a catch-all Indie club. Gino and Dave had long since packed up and gone home by then, and while new DJ Paul was superb at what he did, it wasn’t quite the same anymore. I moved on to newer pastures and quietly mourned my loss, but it wasn’t until a few years later that something happened to make me truly appreciate and understand the importance of the club, the time, and the place.
The incident, small enough in itself, occurred sometime around mid-1995. It needs a bit of context, though, so you’ll have to bear with me for a minute. Early the previous year, I’d been struck down with a rather severe case of party fatigue. Now, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that, given the odd cup of Horlicks and a restorative early night or two, I’d be up with the lark whistling show tunes again. But it wasn’t just a question of rest and recuperation. As the years slipped by, I became aware of an increasing desire for a more defined sense of purpose and direction in my life. This realisation led to my parting company with my band, falling out royally with best friend Mike, and going back to college. An unfortunate consequence of growing up in such short order, of course, is that your previously sunny disposition gets supplanted by a new-found attitude that would give a positive biopsy a run for its money in the seriousness stakes. But it tends to even itself out over time. As was the case with me, and when Mike and I had patched up our differences to resume our friendship, we started clubbing again ”â albeit rather more infrequently. And it was on one of these occasional forays into town that the aforementioned incident took place.
I was at the bar in 42nd St, just having been served, and as I turned to go I nudged someone. Classic, really. The guy turned to acknowledge my apology, but stopped short as he caught sight of my rather splendid vintage paisley shirt. ”ËLook at this cunt!’ the little charmer shouted over to his mates. ”ËHe’s come out boogyin’ in ”Ëis fuckin’ pyjama top!’ Marvellous. I’d bought the offending article that very afternoon, as a matter of fact, having spotted it in a charity shop window display while en route to Salford. And there I was a few hours later, sharing a moment of masculine tension with the lads”â me on one side, sporting the newly-acquired object of derision; they on the other, dressed to a man in button-down collar Burton shirts (worn outside the jeans), and fogged in Paco Rabanne pour homme. I managed to defuse the situation, you’ll be pleased to hear, by producing the winning smile I reserve for such occasions, and telling them that my dressing gown and slippers were in the cloakrooms ready for the journey home. (Not quite Peter Ustinov, I’m the first to concede, but it’s the best I could muster under the circumstances. And in fairness to me, my audience ”â God bless ”Ëem ”â were hardly the Mensa Candidate Delegation to the Oxford Union. You look at what you’re dealing with, and you cut your cloth accordingly.)
Anyway, the point of that little story is this: such confrontation would never have happened in the Hangout, or at 42 St for that matter, back in the old days. My Burton-clad adversaries wouldn’t have been there in the first place. They wouldn’t even have known either damn club existed. Oasis had taken the country by storm in the intervening years, though, and all things Manc and ”Ë60s were now the domain of a rather more”Â¦ erm”Â¦ pedestrian, shall we say, type of punter. The popularity of the ”ËMadchester’ phenomenon played its part too, of course, but it was the juggernaut Gallagher commerciality that kicked the essence of this particular little sub-scene slap bang into the middle of the mainstream. Yet, when all’s said and done, you can’t really blame Noel and Liam for telling all the people, can you? They did pretty much reduce it to the Beatles, the Kinks and the Small Faces, and it was oh so much more ”â that, I admit, is an extremely valid point. But they were brilliant at what they did and sold millions of great records. So let’s cut them some slack. And there was trouble at the Hangout on occasion, of course there was, but never ”â and here’s the thing ”â never because someone wasn’t wearing the uniform. Yes, rock ”Ën’ roll was the parameter (and a strict one at that), but the place was well and truly and sexily and gloriously liberating. More so than any other night club I’ve ever known. You could be anything you wanted to be, just so long as you had the cool, the front and the style to pull it off. Total freedom and excitement in the punk rock tradition. That was precisely what Gino, Dave, Paul and Derek set out to do, and that’s exactly what they achieved.
I wonder what the reunion will be like”Â¦